Col. Christopher Sage took his final flight as commander of the 4th Fighter Wing Thursday, as the wing prepares to welcome new commander Col. Donn Yates during a change of command ceremony July 3.
An Air Force tradition, the final flight -- or "fini flight" -- is an opportunity for an airman at the end of their tour of duty to take to the sky one last time. For Sage, the final flight came as he prepares to transition away from Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, to a new position which has not yet been disclosed.
Sage took off from Seymour Johnson Thursday morning, and spent just over two hours in the air before returning. While flying, he and his weapons system officer traveled to the Dare County bombing range to drop live bombs, and then moved out into open airspace to practice air-to-air combat, which Sage said are two of his favorite things to do as a pilot.
When Sage returned to the ground just after 1 p.m., he found family, friends and fellow airmen waiting for him on the flight line. He climbed down from the cockpit using the integrated ladder on the side of the jet -- another tradition -- and was met by his loving family.
Every single member of which was holding a water hose of some kind.
Sage has five children, which, in addition to his wife, Jessica, meant that there was quite a bit of pressurized water coming his way as soon as his feet hit the concrete. Whether coming from handheld water tanks or an honest-to-God fire hose, the deluge had Sage drenched from head to toe in no time -- maybe not so bad given the early afternoon heat on the flight line.
Once the torrent passed, Sage spent time taking photos and meeting with friends and colleagues, including former 916th Air Refueling Wing Commander Eric Jenkins, who visited the base to congratulate Sage. As the crowd dispersed, Sage reflected on what the flight meant to him.
"It's always such an honor to fly a fighter aircraft that's been the workhorse of the fleet in the United States Air Force, and to fly it one last time, and to fly it as a wing commander, as a colonel, as the old man, it's truly an honor," he said.
Sage thanked everyone for coming out to celebrate with him.
"It means a lot, because it's like having the whole family here," he said. "To see all the faces as I pulled up, to see my children, how excited they were. They've been looking forward to spraying me down for the last week or two. It's a long tradition in the Air Force, and it's a fun one to share with my family."
Sage said he did not know if this would be the last time he would ever fly a fighter jet, but he couldn't be sure one way or another.
"Every time they call you back to be a commander, it's truly a privilege," he said. "So whether or not it's the last time, we'll have to wait and see what the Air Force says."